“A lot can happen in a decade,” said Fred with his characteristic and astonishing insight.
When I arrived in Mexico going on ten years ago, it was a mildly sleepy upper-Third World country, whatever that means—corrupt but not dangerous, not rich but hardly poor, barely middle-class overall and climbing, the mañana thing seldom noticeable, and women pouring into the professions. I parodied the American conception of Mexico as perilous hell-hole because it wasn’t. Not even close.
Then in 2006 Felipe Calderón became president, and declared war on the drug cartels. Mexicans I talk to think he did it under pressure from Washington, but I don’t know. Certainly Washington has done everything in its power to encourage it.
The war failed, as anyone with even a vague understanding of the world would have predicted. A war on drugs—foolish phrase—may be said to succeed if the price of drugs rises on the American street. It didn’t. It won’t.
Things happened that were touted as successes against the traficantes. A fair number of bosses of important cartels were killed or caught. Since Americans confuse leaders with movements and countries, this sounded like progress. Of course if, for example, you kill a leader of the “Taliban,” his second takes over within hours and all goes on as before. And if you kill the leader of a cartel, his underlings fight among themselves for the pieces, thousainds die, and law breaks down. Mexicans know this. The State Department apparently doesn’t.
Meanwhile, as always, drugs remain everywhere available in America.
At first the killing remained largely in the northern states, Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and such, with patches south in Jalisco and, especially, Michoacan. The gringos who lived around Lake Chapala, an hour south of Guadalajara, were not much affected.
Then the mayhem arrived here at Lakeside. In recent months the gringo havens along the lake have seen firefights with automatic weapons and grenades. Bodies are frequently found. Very frequently. Until recently no gringos were killed. The narcos were fighting among themselves and against the police. Expats didn’t, and so far don’t, interest them.
A few days ago an American was killed in Ajijic, the epicenter of gringolandia. It was just an armed robbery gone bad. The narcos had nothing to do with it. Thing is, when the country falls into chaos because of the war against drugs, every other kind of crime follows.
The expats have begun moving out. Realtors report large numbers of houses going on the block. If this continues, and I see no reason why it won’t, restaurants will continue to close, maids and gardeners will lose their jobs, and the doctors and dentists that serve the expatriates will leave. Today a local Spanish website reports a fall of fifty percent in trade at eateries. If this continues, tourism, a crucial business in Mexico, will disappear. Already, we hear, the cruise ships have stopped going to Puerto Vallarta.
For Mexico, for hundreds of thousands of retired gringos, this is very bad news. Many expats came here because they couldn’t afford to retire in the United States. They still can’t.
Although I lived for many years in Washington, associating with news weasels and policy wonks, I have never understood their mixture of appalling ignorance, incuriosity (I say it’s a word), insularity, narcissistic nationalism, and otherworldly moralizing resting on platitudinous amorality. All elections are personality contests, all politics is domestic, and everything is done in bromides so that neither public nor pols have to know anything at all. Ignorance has consequences.
For example, NAFTA forced Mexican campesinos to compete with mechanized American agriculture, which they couldn’t, so they went to the cities, where they drifted either into crime or north to Arizona. Or both.
Mexico is being wrecked in what amounts to an out-sourced American civil war. Huge numbers of Americans use drugs, most assuredly including people on Capitol Hill. Moralists and the Feds don’t want them to use drugs. Putting many millions of white users in Leavenworth would be politically awkward. So: Export the war to Mexico, which never had a drug problem. This solution is acceptable for white users, who continue to have ample supplies at high convenience and low cost. It is acceptable to the anti-drug industry, the cops and prison guards and so on, who get fat salaries, and to the narcos. It is a splendid situation all around, except for poor blacks and Mexico. About neither of which anyone gives a damn.
Now, it must be obvious to a mentally retarded marmoset that nothing can stop the flow of drugs to the United States. Any drug anyone might want is available at reasonable cost to anyone who wants it. When peasants in the Sierra Madre Occidental can suddenly have high-end pickup trucks and cable televesion by selling drugs, they are going to sell drugs. And why not? After all, if the gringos don’t want drugs, they don’t have to buy them, do they? When the cartels make $40 billion a year (a common figure, however arrived at) there will always be those wanting to work in the trade. The money is sufficient to buy military-grade weapons from the US, including from the US government, and it is enough to bribe officials in both countries.
Now, American politicians want to send the military to Mexico, and are doing it quietly in the form of retired or “retired” military types, DEA, drones, training, and all the rest of the now-standard camels’ noses under other people’s tents. These are the politicians, remember, who brought you Korea, Iran shortly, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Uganda, Afghanistan, and all the other well-conceived brilliancies of the wildly ill-informed. Add to this a comic-opera military that has never been able to beat bush-world peasants with AKs and a bad attitude toward invasion.
Many, many know this farce for the farce it is. In this I include large numbers of cops who are not fools and actually see what is going on. If they they talk, they lose their jobs, so they don’t. But of course no one really has an interest in ending the slaughter except those being slaughtered.
It will get worse here in Mexico, unless the Mexicans themselves do something about it. They probably cannot. Vicente Fox (former president of Mexico, as Americans are all aware) favors legalization everywhere, but the cartels can easily buy any country’s politicians to prevent this. The Mexican public more and more favors reaching an accomodation with the narcos: “You sell your drugs and we will turn a blind eye, but put an end to kidnappings, extortion, and the murder of the uninvolved.” This might work because it would be in the interest of the traficantes, who could discourage kidnappers by killing them unpleasantly. Nothing that isn’t in the interest of tne narcos will work, since they are too strong to coerce.
Meanwhile houses of expats go on the market, with few if any buyers, and the sale of drugs in American goes on, undisturbed.